This is my upcoming article for the Shawnee News Star to be printed on Saturday, January 19th.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Matthew 5:9, New Revised Standard Version
I taught an Introduction to Ethics course for seven years at a community college in Iowa. One of the subjects that my students and I spent a great deal of time discussing and debating was the ethics involved in both War and Peace. As part of this conversation we often talked about Mohandas K. Gandhi and his life’s work of non-violent resistance. From his first moment of consciousness raising when he was thrown off a train in South Africa for being a non-white in a white’s only car to the moment of his tragic assassination, Gandhi sought to be a peacemaker. For him that meant more than just talking about peace or living a peaceful life that affected him and him alone. It meant actively resisting the forces that opposed peace. He worked tirelessly to overcome oppression and injustice. But it was all done non-violently. He was not afraid to stand up to those who opposed his ideas. He was not afraid to have his body beaten or abused. He gladly went to jail. He believed in conversion rather than coercion, and engaged in hunger strikes as a way to bring about that conversion. Everything he did was to bring about peace. He fought back, but it was with love not weapons.
From my study of Gandhi I learned a word that continues to have significance for me, as a pastor and as a person. The word is ahimsa. Ahimsa is both a moral virtue and a doctrine of non-violence. For Gandhi, to practice ahimsa did not mean just avoiding violence; it meant acting completely and wholeheartedly out of love. To him it was “the largest love.” It was not a passive state, but an active one.
The reason I resonate with this so intensely is because I believe this is what it means to be a peacemaker. To say that peace is just an absence of war or violence is to see a small part of the picture. In my mind peace is not just an absence of strife; instead it is an active pursuing of the good, of justice, of righteousness, of love. It is, to use another word that has meant a great deal to me, shalom. Shalom, as I understand it, is a robust peace, a peace that is not just lack of enmity but that actively seeks the good and the well-being of the other; whether that other is a person or a nation or the world.
My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has encouraged its congregations and middle governing bodies to enter into a time of discernment about peace and peacemaking. How are we, as a denomination, called to be peacemakers? How are we as congregations called to make peace?
While this sounds as though it should be relatively simple, in truth it is a complex subject. Peacemaking looks differently to different people. The issues that peacemaking needs to address are many and varied. I’ve learned in recent weeks that one issue that is prominent here in Oklahoma is human trafficking. With the crossroads of I35 and I40, slavery, which is the fundamental definition of human trafficking, is a very real threat. Although it may seem to be a problem that affects someone else, our interdependence as children of God would suggest that when one of us is exploited and violated, in some ways we all are. This is true for other issues of justice and injustice as well.
In the next few months our congregation will enter into this time of discernment about peacemaking, through Sunday School classes, Bible studies and a time of retreat. We invite the larger community to join with us in this ongoing discussion. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”